women on benches in conversation to demonstrate intimacy in trust fundraising

Cultivating intimacy in trust fundraising

I know that some of you might read the title of this blog then feel a degree of nervousness – intimacy in trust fundraising…




It’s true. It’s a thing.  Moreover, I’d like to suggest that the formalities you’re so keen to nurture as part of the ‘professional persona’ you feel you should be cultivating might actually be doing you a disservice.

In fact, I dare you to be human, be brave, be fully yourself and where you can, in meetings with donors, you may even err on the side of oversharing.




In my experience:


  • Oversharing gone wrong may at worst, result in someone (who wasn’t going to anyway) not giving you money


That’s pretty much the worst that can happen (unless you have ZERO filter).


  • If you overshare and it doesn’t feel right, you can usually pull it back with some attention on the formalities
  • If you overshare and its well-received, you will find yourself on a fast track to a meaningful relationship with a donor


Because here are some truths I’ve come to learn:


  • Fundraising sometimes requires you to tackle some tricky topics (the contents of my last will and testament anyone?)
  • Donors often come to be donors because of a deeply intimate / personal / human experience (which they may well want to talk about)
  • Donors want to know that you care about THEM (and not just their money)


I have connected with donors on a whole range of topics over the years including:


  • choral music of the 20th century
  • the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s autumn programme*
  • children / babies / grandchildren / breastfeeding
  • divorce
  • Barn Owl poo
  • The best houseplants to have in a small space
  • caravans and how frustrating it is when you get stuck behind one travelling on the A30 into Cornwall


As fundraiser you’re not the one with the complex technical knowledge on the subject which is of deep interest to a donor (nope, I have nothing of use to say on the latest technologies in brain tumour treatments…).  So you’re probably better off talking about areas of common ground and the things which interest you both.

Leave the technical explanations to your colleagues.


What is intimacy?


Disclaimer: in the confines of this blog, I am absolutely not talking about sexy time.


In his book, The Trusted Adviser, Charles H Green’s formula sets out the optimum balance of behaviours of trusted advisers, in a professional context.  These behaviours, required in equal measure are:


  • Credibility – the quality of being trusted and believed in


  • Reliability – the quality of being trustworthy or of performing consistently well


  • Intimacy – close familiarity or friendship / a cosy and private or relaxed atmosphere


We’re ok with the first two.  But for some reason, intimacy is harder for us to stomach (especially as British people).

Of course, intimacy in trust fundraising without the credibility or the integrity can lead you to look sloppy and unprofessional (see my upcoming Pizza for Losers podcast interview for a horrible example of this in action).  But conversely, a lack of intimacy can lead a donor to believe you are cold, disinterested and dull.

Without intimacy, it can take a lot longer for the juicy conversations (which often lead to a big ask) to happen.

I would like fundraisers to remember this simple fact about many of our wonderful donors.


For them, giving is a joy and more often than not, philanthropy occupies a space outside the workplace for your donors


Whilst the impact of their donation is undoubtedly important to them, the process of giving also needs to be fulfilling and (where possible and appropriate, enjoyable).

And if fundraisers struggle to remember this, then how on earth can or colleagues who are not fundraisers ever be expected to relax, enjoy and connect with donors on a human level?


Intimacy in action


I once cultivated a great relationship with a husband a wife donor who were allocated to me because of an unsolicited gift to a project located close to me in Cornwall.

The project was located on the coastline and was part of a wider landscape restoration programme with lots of activity planned for the following years.  I was never short of information for this couple and I would regularly visit them at home in Bristol to talk to them about how their gifts were being spent and the difference we were seeking to achieve as a result of their generosity.

As well as talking about the project and the vision for the site, we covered many things during our lunches:


  • tours of their garden
  • their experiences of cultivating wildflower meadows (tip: it’s not just a case of lobbing a handful of seeds on a rough patch of ground and praying for good weather)
  • their childhoods, and their links to Cornwall
  • their children and grandchildren
  • my daughter, my ex-husband, my singing career
  • bad neighbours and how poorly thought out developments ruin landscapes / people’s lives
  • other charities they support
  • living in Bristol
  • living in Cornwall


When it came to making the (rather large – I think I was aiming for a million £…) ask, I felt confident that we’d passed enough intimacy barriers, that I knew them sufficiently well to choose my timing and my words and that the conversation was a natural and expected development on both sides.

After making the ask, the wife eyeballed me and said with typical directness:


“you can have it when we’re dead!”


After which point, we laughed and cracked on with lunch.

I would argue that cultivating intimacy in trust fundraising is as critical as being professional, thoughtful, organised, prompt in your communications and responsive to donor questions and queries.

Creating genuinely meaningful relationships between donors and people representing your organisation is essential if you want your fundraising to be successful.

Thanks for reading,



Want to develop your trust fundraising skills?

Trust the Process is our online training course.  It contains everything you need to know about how to do trust fundraising really well (plus several effective little tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years).

Click here to find out more and to be the first to hear when the course next launches!

Posted in Fundraising, Major gift fundraising, Trust fundraising.